Bring on the Cartwheels


Okay – so I can’t stop thinking about play – about free play and kids.  Everywhere I turn this week, someone is talking about some study-or-another about the importance of play for kids.  Questions are coming at me from “experts” on CBC radio.  “Are kids getting enough play time?”  This is a distinction between exercise from planned, structured activities and the kind of active play that just happens.   When we were children (30 years ago), we rode our bikes all over the place and played made-up active games without supervision.  Our city and suburban streets were our playgrounds.  We stayed out until the streetlights came on without our parents knowing EXACTLY where we were.  So much has changed for many reasons.

This month our Parents Canada magazine arrived in the mail.  In it, a startling article by Liz Hastings entitled “Are Kids Forgetting How to Play?” Here’s the gist of the article…

A few months ago, Liz got a call from her daughter’s school.  Her nine-year-old had fallen during recess and broken her elbow while doing a cartwheel.  They returned to the school the same day after drying the tears, going to the emergency room at the local hospital, and getting the arm in a sling.  When they arrived back at the school both mother and daughter received the surprising news…Cartwheels had been banned at school.  Liz goes on to report other activities banned at various schools.  These include:  banning skipping ropes, balls of any shape or size (with the exception of Nerf products), snow balls, skateboards, roller blades or shoes with roller balls on them.  All of this leads her (and me!) to wonder if we are doing more harm to our children – limiting their physical activity and ability to play – in the name of keeping them from getting hurt.  Experts quoted in her article make it clear that “Active play helps kids learn from their mistakes, make friends, be creative, problem solve, test boundaries and shape their own identities.” And “Children learn how to regulate their physiological emotional states through positive touch.”  And finally, “We need to allow them [children] to explore…Kids like being tasked with a new challenge and are willing participants.”

At summer camp we encourage free, active play.  At Camp Wanapitei especially, we value open time – i.e. periods of time during which we have not scheduled a set activity.  Campers find themselves in the out-of-doors surrounded by natural resources for free play – sticks and trees and hills and rocks and each other.

So, I say – BRING ON CAMP!!!  Bring on cartwheels, free play, physical problem solving and new challenges every hour of every day on wilderness canoe trips.

– JJ

Read the full article from the October 2013 Issue of Parents Canada here.

JJ is the co-director of Camp Wanapitei and mother of two children.